How becoming a Cisco Certified Networking Associate can jumpstart a career in IT
As one of the most prevalent entry-level IT certifications globally, there are good reasons for earning Cisco’s CCNA certification.

Summary: With the global adoption of Cisco’s products and services, IT professionals who can demonstrate competence in deploying and managing various technologies are growing in demand. The Cisco Certified Networking Associate (CCNA) credential validates those skills, making it a popular entry point into a career in IT.

As a world leader in computer networking solutions, it should come as no surprise that Cisco’s CCNA certification is one of the most sought-after among those wanting to start a career in IT.

The Cisco Certified Network Associate is an entry-level credential encompassing networking fundamentals, automation and programmability, and security basics. Earning the credential is typically the first step before embarking on the Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) certification and the expert-level credentials after that.

Previously, the CCNA certification came in five different forms – Voice, Security, Wireless, SP (Service Provider) Ops, and Design. However, starting February 2020, all certifications were consolidated into a single CCNA exam covering the full breadth of topics.

Potential job roles for CCNA holders

The CCNA certification validates a candidate’s knowledge and skills in installing, configuring, and troubleshooting routed and switched networks. Although the certification naturally favors Cisco’s products, it is still highly relevant, even for those who rarely encounter them, because many concepts include general networking concepts like IP connectivity.

Despite being an entry-level certification, becoming a CCNA can open the door to salaries of over $50,000 per year in the US. Career opportunities include help desk technician, network administrator, and network support technician roles. Moreover, CCNA is the first step in the career path to Cisco’s professional- and expert-level certifications.

Prerequisites and experience

There are no formal prerequisites for taking the CCNA exam. Anyone can schedule the exam, which takes place either with online proctoring or in-person. The exam costs $300, with official training from Cisco, though not formally required, costing an extra $800.

Given the breadth of the topics covered and the cost of the exam, candidates should have some prior knowledge of networking. This should not be an issue for anyone with a year or more in using and implementing Cisco’s networking products and solutions.

Recommended training and exam prep

While Cisco offers a comprehensive CCNA training program for $800, it is not required to sit the exam. Other options are every bit as viable and can be much cheaper. Many partner organizations offer self-paced training programs, complete with hands-on learning. The CCNA course is also a component of Cybrary’s Network Engineer career path.

For those starting from scratch and with no prior knowledge in IT, starting any CCNA course will likely be overwhelming. Therefore, candidates should first familiarize themselves with the fundamentals of IT. For example, CompTIA’s IT Fundamentals certification is aimed at students who are entirely new to the area.

Another significant step to take ahead of the exam is to complete a mock test, which helps candidates familiarize themselves with the exam process while also putting their existing skills and knowledge to the test. Hands-on simulations can also help prepare candidates for real-world cases, such as installing, managing, and monitoring network routers and switches.

The CCNA 200-301 exam is 120 minutes, and there are between 100 and 120 questions. With a maximum of one minute to answer each question, candidates mustn’t allow themselves to get bogged down in questions they are not sure how to answer. That said, they cannot go back to previous questions that they failed to answer before, even if they still have time left at the end of the exam.

The questions come in several formats, including multiple-choice, drag-and-drop, fill-the-blank, and simulation. Most questions are multiple-choice, and some may have multiple good answers. Some questions are presented in groups based on a common use case, and some may incorporate simulated scenarios.

Cisco does not publish passing scores since exam questions, and passing scores are subject to change without notice. That said, it has been estimated that the passing score is somewhere between 800 and 850 points out of a possible 1,000. Cisco also uses a point scaling system, and candidates automatically start with 300 points.

Active status and recertification process

Like all other Cisco certifications, the CCNA is valid for three years. After the three-year limit, certificate holders will need to recertify by passing another qualifying exam or earn 30 continuing education credits (CECs). CECs can be earned with ongoing training by attending relevant industry networking events or joining seminars. Certificate holders will often partake in such activities as part of their employment, so it is a prevalent recertification option.

In conclusion, becoming a Cisco Certified Network Associate is a broadly recognized entry point into a career in IT administration and security. Not only does it make a good impression during the hiring phase – but it also opens the door to higher salaries and marks the first step to making a six-figure income in IT.

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